Mulches have several benefits and can help to retain moisture in summer, and rain to generate the soil in winter as well as prevent weeds from growing. Depending on the type of mulch used, other benefits include deterring pests, improving soil matter and giving the garden a decorative finish. Kim Stoddart, editor of The Organic Way magazine for Garden Organic and co-author of The Climate Change Garden book, has shared top tips on making homemade mulch.
The expert told Express.co.uk: “Whatever the weather, and let’s face it we’ve experienced a fair few extremes of late, mulches really help provide multifarious protection to the soil.
“In the case of drought, they can help to hold water in the soil for plants to access for longer as the material provides a valuable barrier to the glare of the sun. This means more water for your precious plants and less onerous to and fro watering for you as the gardener.
“Mulches also help improve the quality of your soil overall, enabling it to hold and absorb more water than it might do otherwise, boosting microbial activity below ground, and also providing the benefit of a slow release plant food at the same time.
“No wonder many in the know refer to them as marvelous mulches, especially when you consider many can be made from materials you are likely to have to hand for free.
“Gardening can be expensive and with the rising cost of living, building resilience naturally and in a low cost way has to be an attractive option. Bought in compost may be the most commonly thought of mulch but here are just some of the best options which won’t cost you anything to make at all.”
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The expert added: “Leaves fall in ample supply from the trees come autumn and they can be transformed into the fantastic soil improver and mulch, aka leaf mould.
“Forget the exact instructions on how to make this beneficial material; just leave piles of leaves to break down in a bin, bag or dedicated pile. I find it transforms more quickly in a shallow pile touching the soil in a sheltered spot such as under a tree. Such piles also provide beneficial habitats for wildlife over winter and when ready (some should be next summer) can also be used as a no-cost seed compost for seedlings.
“In the interim you can also use leaves as an impromptu mulch around plants – as even whole they will help provide protection overall.”
Another “effective” mulch is to use woodchip.
Kim said this is a “brilliant” material if gardeners have a space to house a mound or two.
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The expert explained: “It can often be sourced for free from your local tree surgeon who will be keen to have somewhere to dump the byproduct of their work trimming trees.
“Contrary to previous advice and concerns over nitrogen levels associated with the use of woodchip – a thin layer around plants can make an effective mulch all-round with no problems at all. In fact woodchips can help boost microbial activity in your soil, boosting natural resilience below ground, especially if you also employ a no-dig approach.”
Another readily available material is grass clippings which can be sprinkled around plants.
Kim said it helps to keep moisture in, although gardeners should avoid using grass with any weed seeds in it.
The expert continued: “[Use] comfrey. This wonderful perennial plant will dutifully grow back year after year in your garden providing you with ample opportunity for pickings to use as a mulch, or add as a valuable addition to your homemade compost pile.
“As what is called a dynamic accumulator, comfrey is a wonder of a plant able to pull up lots of goodies from deep below the soil which it offers out through its leaves and stems. Adding this plant as a mulch therefore also helps provide a valuable slow release feed for the plants it is surrounding.
“Bocking 14 is the recommended variety of comfrey to grow as it doesn’t spread as readily as other self-seeding comfreys.”
Even cardboard boxes can be put to use in the garden, making sure any tapes or tape is removed first.
When it rains, however, the cardboard can then be removed and added to the compost pile.
The expert continued: “[Sheep wool] is also a fantastic material for water retention. I have experimented with using sheep wool before as a liner for hanging baskets and it works really well holding onto water to the benefit of plants.
“On top of the soil and around produce it also holds its own. Although you might not have access to sheep wool as readily as me, as a smallholder; any woolen materials will work equally as well.
“So if you have an old woolen jumper that is past its best it could be cut up and put to great use as an impromptu mulch.”
According to Kim, anything natural can be used as a mulch.
She added: “Even a slug or cabbage white caterpillar nibbled brassica leaves could be picked off nearby plants and placed on the ground to help keep moisture in for those plants that need it most. Obviously just remove any pests first before spreading out your plant barrier.”
Kim has been writing about climate change and resilience since 2013 and runs courses around the UK in person and online via www.greenrocketcourses.com.